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Volume 471: debated on Monday 28 January 2008


Monday 28 January 2008


Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform

Mail Centre (Coventry)

The Petition of the Communication Workers Union, Coventry Area Branch,

Declares that they do not agree with Royal Mail’s Decision to close the mail centre in Coventry in order to open a new Mail Centre in Northamptonshire instead. They believe that to maintain the quality of service they currently receive, as customers of Royal Mail, Coventry and Warwickshire needs to have a Mail Centre based in Coventry.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government and Royal Mail to rescind its decision to close the Mail Centre in Coventry in 2009 and instead either maintain the Mail Centre at its current location or build a new Mail Centre in Coventry.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Mr. Jim Cunningham, Official Report, 18 December 2007; Vol. 469, c. 823 .] [P000096]

Observations from the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform:

Under the Government's postal sector reforms, Royal Mail was given greater commercial freedom as the management and unions wanted. Government has an arm's length relationship as a shareholder and the Board of the company has responsibility for decisions relating to operational matters.

It is for Royal Mail to ensure that its network operations are as efficient as possible to enable it to meet the challenges of changing customer demands and expectations in a liberalised postal market.

Royal Mail believes that the existing mail centres (Coventry and Northampton) do not offer sufficient potential for redevelopment and limit the scope for badly needed automation. Royal Mail's plan is to optimise cost savings while ensuring that the £70 million investment optimises operational efficiency.

Royal Mail have made it clear that quality of service will be maintained and enhanced as a result of any change. The point of these changes is to improve operational efficiency. Postcomm and Postwatch will as a matter of course monitor any effect on quality of service and will quickly raise with Royal Mail any deterioration of service. There is no formal requirement for Royal Mail to consult over this kind of operational change.

Post Office Closures (New Forest)

The Petition of Mr Desmond Swayne MP and other customers of Bramshaw Post Office in the New Forest,

Declares that the loss of this Post Office will have a devastating effect on the welfare of numerous vulnerable and elderly residents of the village.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government and Post Office Ltd. to reverse the proposal to close this indispensable branch.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Dr. Julian Lewis, Official Report, 13 December 2007; Vol. 469, c. 567 .][P000086]

Observations by the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform:

The Government fully recognises the important social and economic role of post offices, particularly in rural and deprived urban communities. That is why it is determined to maintain a national post office network allowing people to have reasonable access across the whole country and has put in place a new policy and financial framework to achieve this. The Government has been investing substantial sums in the post office network, totalling £2 billion since 1999. That has, for example, paid for a computer link-up for every post office as well as support for non-commercial branches since 2003.

In its response to the consultation on the Post Office network the Government announced in May 2007 confirmation of its decision to extend funding of up to £1.7 billion to 2011, including provision of £150 million Social Network Payment to support the post office network up to 2011. The Government strategy includes provision for 2,500 compensated closures and 500 new Outreach services.

The 500 new and innovative Outreach locations, operated in partnership with other local services such as in pubs, village halls, churches or in mobile post offices, will mitigate closures, primarily in smaller and more remote communities. Nevertheless, to ensure sustainability, there will need to be up to 2,500 compensated post office closures within the defined access criteria.

Post Office Limited is responsible for implementing the network change programme at a local level. It is developing a rolling programme of some 50 local consultations on detailed area plans, based on groups of Parliamentary constituencies.

Post Office Limited (POL) is responsible for implementing the network change programme at a local level. It is developing a rolling programme of some 50 local consultations on detailed area plans, based on groups of Parliamentary constituencies. The first area plans went out to local consultation on 2 October this year and these plans will continue to be rolled out at regular intervals until next July with the whole programme scheduled to take around 15 months to complete. The consultation period for the New Forest area finished on 26 November 2007 and in announcing its final decisions on 4 January Post Office Ltd confirmed that the Bramshaw Post Office will close. Post Office Ltd published their decision in an Area Plan Decision Booklet for Hampshire and the Isle of Wight available on their website at:

POL develops its proposals with the participation of sub-postmasters, local authorities and the consumer watchdog, Postwatch, and takes into account the numeric access criteria set out by Government as well as local factors affecting ease of access, such as local geography: rivers, mountains etc when drawing up its implementation plans. POL is also required to consider the availability of public transport and alternative access to key post office services, local demographics and the impact on the local economy. Local consultations provide the opportunity to raise any specific concerns over particular proposals.

The Government does not have a role in proposals or decisions for individual post offices. No decisions on individual Post Offices are taken until after local consultations. Those decisions are made by POL in light of the responses to the consultation while subject to a four-stage appeals process involving Postwatch. The Review Process for closure decisions after public consultation process applies where Postwatch shows that, for an individual branch:

POL has not given due consideration to material evidence received during the public consultation in coming to its decision or;

where evidence emerges from the consultation that the proposal for the branch does not meet the Government's policy requirements.

The aim of the further review process is for POL and Postwatch to reach an agreed way forward by bilateral review with 3 stages available at increasing levels of seniority. A recent addition to the review process provides that for very difficult cases which remain unresolved after stage 3, Allan Leighton, Chairman of Royal Mail Group will review the issues and reach a final decision.


M25 Noise Pollution

The Petition of residents of Chorleywood and others from the Constituency of South West Hertfordshire and others,

Declares that a large number of homes which are very close to the M25 near and between Junctions 17 and 18 suffer from considerable noise pollution from the motorway and that the forthcoming widening of the M25 will exacerbate this problem.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Secretary of State for Transport and the Highways Agency to take effective measures to reduce the level of noise produced by the M25 near and between Junctions 17 and 18, including the provision of low noise surfacing of the motorway and effective noise-absorbing fencing.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Mr. David Gauke, Official Report, 12 December 2007; Vol. 469, c. 432 .] [P000084]

Observations from the Secretary of State for Transport:

The Highways Agency is planning to carry out major improvements on the M25 between Junctions 16 to 23 from 2009. This section of motorway is close to the towns of Chorleywood and Rickmansworth. This work will involve increasing the motorway width by one lane in each direction. This widening has been designed so that it can be carried out entirely within existing highway land.

It is a priority for any such schemes to take account of the impact on the local environment and local residents. To this end extensive studies have been carried out in the area affected. The findings of these were published in an Environmental Statement on 23 August 2007, which was available to be viewed and commented on for 12 weeks until 15 November 2007.

The biggest issue concerning residents has been noise levels from the motorway and potential increases as a result of the works. This was also a key concern in the environmental studies carried out.

These studies have shown that as a result of the low noise surfacing and improvements to noise barriers the majority of affected properties will experience a reduction in noise compared with the ‘no widening' option, while the increase in noise for virtually all the remaining properties will be at levels which are barely discernible

As a result the Environmental Statement has set out a commitment to provide low noise surfacing over the full width of the widened sections of carriageway. In addition there is a commitment to improve some existing noise barriers in the area and install some new ones. These commitments have been viewed by local residents at a series of public exhibitions.

The Highways Agency has reviewed the proposals for noise mitigation measures in the Environmental Statement in the light of the comments arising from these exhibitions. The Minister with responsibility for roads, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, South (Mr. Tom Harris) also met with David Gauke MP to discuss the proposed noise mitigation measures. The Minister was satisfied that the published proposals were appropriate and fully complied with the Secretary of State's obligations. The Minister agreed that existing barriers near junction 18 should be inspected and repaired if necessary as part of the widening scheme.